UEFA's executive committee on Monday unanimously endorsed Gianni Infantino to stand for world football's top job. The move, coming less than 10 hours before FIFA's midnight deadline for presidential bids, followed an emergency UEFA conference call of European football's top executives on Monday morning and followed consultation with national federations from “across the global football community”.
The forthcoming election for a new FIFA president represents a crucial moment in the governance of the game and the future of FIFA itself, UEFA said. We believe that Gianni Infantino has all of the qualities required to tackle the major challenges ahead and to lead the organisation on a path of reform to restore FIFA's integrity and credibility.
A European candidate is seen as vital in the coming months of the presidential contest leading up to the Feb 26 election to strengthen UEFA's position in world football, not least to protect its World Cup slots.
Infantino was put up as a candidate after UEFA president Michel Platini was suspended for 90 days pending a FIFA ethics inquiry into a $2.1 million payment he received from FIFA in 2011. Platini filed his own candidacy hours before he was banned two weeks ago. But he faces a massive task to convince FIFA's ethics team that the payment was legal.
With two Asian candidates in the race, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein and Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, UEFA felt the need to offer an alternative to Platini if the 60-year-old is punished and fails to make the ballot sheet. Ali was backed by Platini and UEFA in the May election but turned on him when the Frenchman announced that he was standing in August before the payment scandal rocked his chances.
That repositioned Prince Ali, the former FIFA vice president, as frontrunner. However, Sheikh Salman and Asian sports power broker Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah hatched a plan to stop arch rival Prince Ali, with Sheikh Salman being put forward to replace Blatter. They were in Platini's camp, and both supported Sepp Blatter over Prince Ali in the May election.
Blatter won a fifth mandate but announced his resignation plans four days later as the escalating $150 million bribery scandal engulfed FIFA. A total of 14 FIFA and corporate executives have since been indicted in the U.S. on corruption charges including racketeering and money laundering.
On Monday, Sheikh Salman informed the AFC executive he was standing for the FIFA job.
His application brings to eight the number of contenders in the FIFA race. The others are former South African politician Tokyo Sexwale, Jérôme Champagne, the former FIFA deputy general, former Trinidad & Tobago player David Nakhid and Liberia FA president Musa Bility.
UEFA said Infantino, general secretary of UEFA since October 2009, was well-equipped to run FIFA.
Gianni has done a great job at UEFA, has a proven track record as a top class administrator and built positive relations with football stakeholders around the globe, the statement said of the Swiss lawyer, who sits on FIFA's Reforms Committee alongside Sheikh Ahmad and 10 others.
He has been a long-time advocate of the need for change and renewed development at FIFA and would bring a refreshing and informed voice to the top table of football's world governing body.
We are delighted that Gianni has agreed to stand and he knows that he has our full support in his campaign to become FIFA president. He is in the process of submitting the required nominations and will issue a statement on his candidacy later today.”